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C.N.P Poetry 

IMAGINARY ART PROJECT: Architecture; Gardening; Money

By: W. Vandoren Wheeler


I nibbled stale bread

into a house the shape 

of our house. Two sesame 

seeds, my wife and me.

The wandering canyons

of the lines in my palm 

darken as time brings 

the scene into my mouth.

A plump, silver-haired 

couple wobbles out 

from underneath the porch 

to gape up at all these 

stars I can’t see.


I studied illicit fruit genetics, 

spliced up trees to blossom apple 

hand grenades. I planted 

the tree in a divided 

neighborhood, nailed on

a FORBIDDEN sign. 

When children 

from both sides snuck 

fist-sized applets 

into their mouths and 

exploded, people thought God 

had gone bonkers. They gushed

from their houses of worship

into the muddy fields. No one 

could tell tears from rain.

The mourning grabbed 

the ground with both 

hands, to tear it apart

and give it back.


I quit making art. 

Instead I made money.

I made so much money 

money did not mean 

anything anymore.

So I bought up the art:

good art, bad art, all of it.

I went to the beach with 

my art and a woodchipper,

turned its dial to FINE. 

The flecks alighted on the sand 

like insect ghosts.

The beach, a new beach.

No one wanted to walk on it,

so no one entered the ocean.

We stood on the cliff

of the parking lot’s curb,

waiting for the first sunset 

we would never see again.


W. Vandoren Wheeler was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He has published poems in publications such as Forklift, OH, Conduit, and His book The Accidentalist won the Dorothy Brunsman Prize and was published by Bear Star Press. He teaches in Portland, Oregon, and is finishing a manuscript called Lonely & Co.

Interview with the Poet:

Cathexis Northwest Press:

How long have you been writing poetry?

W. Vandoren Wheeler:

My mom has a poem I wrote when I was seven or so. It was about the ocean, which I had never seen in real life (I grew up in the desert). It was a boring poem, until the last line, which is simply-- out of nowhere-- a single word line: “CRASH!” Maybe I peaked early? I wrote the occasional poem through grade school, got serious in college. It wasn’t that I made a definitive, positive pledge then, but I started to notice I wasn’t okay with myself if I let too much time pass without writing. It makes the soul ache wane a pinch.


Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?


I'm not in love with poetry. It's more of an abusive relationship I'm stuck in because I lack the resources to free myself (i.e. no musical talent, no money to play golf instead). Poetry promises more than it delivers. But when it does deliver, that zing keeps me coming back.


Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?


No favorites. Whatever I say, it will likely have changed by the time this goes to press. I’m struggling with the impulse to tell a white lie and say “myself” for favorite poet but can’t, without equivocation, for societal reasons (ah, the eternal battle between arrogance and false humility!). But the reason I want to say that is to acknowledge that, in the end, publishing is an act of arrogance, of confidence, of trust in the work one has completed and wants to take part in the eternal banter of other writers. And the antidote to that arrogance is reading. Reading humbles, but also encourages me to fake being smart enough to enter this splendid conversation poetry is.


Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in

the zone?


Now that I have young children, it's more haphazard than it used to be. I write here and there in notebooks and scraps of paper, whenever upon my head little phrases of heavenly glimmer or bird poop alight. I keep three types of files: "grinding department" houses orphan phrases; "packaging department" holds fermenting stanzas (almost poems); the last category is when I start gathering finished poems into what might be a manuscript.

I also write by creating new books out of old ones. I write in response to/on top of kid’s picture books. I find old, odd, illustrated books I like, leave or slightly alter the images, and then write my own words over the pages. It’s simultaneously freeing and challenging, occasionally maddening, and often fun.


How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?


I am glad my grad school teachers made me work in forms. It trained my ear, taught me concision, and expanded my ability to manage complexity. Nowadays, I don't start with form in mind, but if a poem does have a unique sense of form, it emerges early on, depending on the voice the poem is speaking in. Form is secondary to voice and tone, yo.


Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?


Write boat-loads of poems, both in your own voice and in others. Imitate, more than whatever feels cool or comfortable. I look back on old poems I wrote while bingeing on, say, Charles Wright, and I laugh at how corny they sound: like I was holding a glass of wine whose name I’d mispronounce because I was buzzed and trying to sound thirty years older and wiser. But I have to say, they are preeety good imitations of Charles Wright (yes, I laugh and/or roll my eyes at a lot of Charles Wright now--forgive me, Sage, but weening off the adoration of heroes is part of growth). I am glad I learned the verbal chops enough to copy someone else's style, since that process helped me hear and then render my own "voice" as it coughed and broke and cleared its throat as I grew up.


What is your editing process like?


A student once asked a panel that question, and Ellen Bryant Voigt described it as similar to making bread, like kneading in the right amount of flour: there’s a point the dough no longer takes on any flour. A poem’s the same. Dean Young countered that if the bread stops taking on flour, it’s time to add actual flowers, and add bits of glass, and broken chairs, and dinosaurs etc. I wander somewhere in between those two extremes.


When do you know that a poem is finished?


I go through dozens of revisions per poem on my own, but reading aloud to other humans is important. There something uncanny about it. It tells me where I am lying or showing off or avoiding something embarrassing but interesting—things I missed reading it aloud to myself. I have the habit of holding a pen when I read newer poems to a group, so I can mark the lines that—when I read them—something inside me droops or winces. When that happens, I return to the line and revise it. If read the poem and don’t get that sinking feeling, then it’s done, especially if I get a little “mmhmm” from someone in the audience: that’s the best sound they is.


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